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Postponed plea hearing leaves murder victim's family angry

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 16. 2017 8:29PM

Gail Chenell, the sister of Prout Park murder victim Richard Carlson, foreground, and Carlson's nephew, Eric Rockwood, and Michelle Thorin speak with reporters at Hillsborough County Superior Court in Manchester on Thursday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Family members of murder victim Richard Carlson were crestfallen Thursday to learn that a judge had called off a plea bargain that would return to prison the suspect in their loved one’s murder.

Meanwhile, a homicide prosecutor gave no indication when — or even if — the second-degree murder case against Jonathan Bijeol will go forward.

Bijeol has been charged with the beating death of Carlson, 61, whose body was discovered in August 2016 on bleachers at the Prout Park youth baseball field.

“We’re beyond disappointed,” said Michelle Thorin, a family member. “There’s a lot to prepare for mentally, physically. I feel like the rug’s been pulled from underneath our feet.”

She said many of Carlson’s family members live in Laconia. They took time off from work and took Carlson’s sister, Gail Chenell, out of a nursing home to be at the hearing.

Chenell said she was hoping to find out why her brother was murdered. Now she fears she will never know.

“You’ll never find out why. You never do,” she said.

On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson adjourned a scheduled hearing where Bijeol was expected to plead guilty and be sentenced in the murder. Abramson announced the hearing would not take place and spent about 10 minutes in muted conversation with lawyers at the bench.

Abramson refused to accept the guilty plea, citing the motion filed by Bijeol’s lawyers.

The homicide prosecutor handling the case said he could not discuss the reasons because Bijeol’s lawyer, public defender Todd Russell, filed the motion under seal. He said his office does not plan to respond to the motion.

Peter Hinckley, a senior assistant attorney general, said he received the motion about two days ago. He wouldn’t discuss what he expected to happen in court on Thursday.

“We very much want to apologize to the victim’s family. This was a time for them to have their voices heard,” Hinckley said.

He said a status hearing will be held on the case in a couple of weeks and it will go forward. He said motions can be filed under seal for a variety of reasons.

The New Hampshire Union Leader has filed a request with Abramson asking that the file be unsealed.

The murder unnerved the neighborhood around Prout Park in east Manchester, not far from the Hallsville School. The fact that police removed a portion of the aluminum bleacher as evidence led to speculation about the gruesomeness of the crime.

Authorities later said that Carlson was beaten repeatedly in the head, face, neck and upper torso.

At the time of his death, neighbors said Carlson lived on disability in public housing. He went for long walks at night, stayed out of trouble and had few visitors.

“He was a very good man. Everyone knows that,” Chenell said.

Early this year, Bijeol was officially charged in the murder. He had been arrested a few days after the murder on a charge of felony assault for hitting a woman. That assault took place several days before the Carlson murder.

Bijeol is an inmate at the New Hampshire State Prison. His earliest possible release would be in August 2020.

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